In high orbital angular momentum (ℓ ≥ 3) Rydberg states, the centrifugal barrier hinders the close approach of the Rydberg electron to the ion-core. As a result, these core-nonpenetrating Rydberg states can be well described by a simplified model in which the Rydberg electron is only weakly perturbed by the long-range electric properties (i.e., multipole moments and polarizabilities) of the ion-core. We have used a long-range model to describe the vibrational autoionization dynamics of high-ℓ Rydberg states of nitric oxide (NO). In particular, our model explains the extensive angular momentum exchange between the ion-core and the Rydberg electron that had been previously observed in vibrational autoionization of f (ℓ = 3) Rydberg states. These results shed light on a long-standing mechanistic question around these previous observations and support a direct, vibrational mechanism of autoionization over an indirect, predissociation-mediated mechanism. In addition, our model correctly predicts newly measured total decay rates of g (ℓ = 4) Rydberg states because for ℓ ≥ 4, the non-radiative decay is dominated by autoionization rather than predissociation. We examine the predicted NO+ ion rotational state distributions generated by vibrational autoionization of g states and discuss applications of our model to achieve quantum state selection in the production of molecular ions.